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Posted on 02.07.2012

The Cyberchrondria Dilemma

For those of us in healthcare marketing, it’s important to study the public’s evolving and expanding online habits. So I’m fascinated and mildly amused by the newest cyber-contagion spreading through communities: cyberchrondria.  The word probably doesn’t require definition.  It’s a term coined to describe people’s obsession with self-diagnosis based on reading online healthcare info. According to American Medical News, which cites a Pew Research study, 80% of internet users search for health information online.  Since about 75% of Americans go online, that’s almost 60% of the US population who are ferreting out online information about illnesses or diseases related to themselves or someone they care about.  Some of that information is quite reliable; some not so much so. Physicians are now reporting an increased number of patients who are needlessly worried about diseases they think they have as a result of internet reading.  The docs say they require significantly more time and counsel or, even worse, they sometimes demand costly screenings and tests just to prove they DON’T have a certain disease. Recently I got an unusual diagnosis which will probably have little or no impact on my life or long term health.   The physician (not the best communicator, by the way) said, “And don’t go out and read about it online; it’ll just scare you.” You can imagine the first thing I did when I got back to the office. (And it did scare me to death.)  Suddenly I just knew I was having a reaction to the medicine (I wasn’t) and I was diving into “chat rooms” populated by people with the same “disease.” (I’ve never heard so many old wives tales.) At a time when government, physicians, patients, and insurers are looking for ways to reduce healthcare costs, this can’t be good.  By the same token, patients are being encouraged to play a more intimate role in their own healthcare.  What’s an intelligent person to do?    

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